The Antiochian Village is a center for Orthodox activities in Bolivar, Pennsylvania that was founded in 1978. It is under the jurisdiction of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America and consists of a conference center and a camp. It was the site of the Ligonier Meeting in 1994.
The vision for our youth began in 1973, as Metropolitan Philip (Saliba) announced his vision and ultimate desire to serve and build the spiritual lives of our youth by creating a camping program for Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.
The Archimandrite George M. Corry, St. Michaels, Greensburg, PA, was appointed to the task along with his parishioner, Archdiocese Trustee, & long time friend, Mr. George S. Koury, of Irwin, PA. Together they began the search in Western Pennsylvania.
Five years had past until a nice, useful facility was available for purchase in the Laurel Mountains of Western Pennsylvania. Camp Fairfield, a 280 acre campground, had cabin accommodations for 160 campers and counselors, and needed only cosmetic enhancements for its initial use. The existing structures included 20 cabins, administrative offices, a dining hall with kitchen, nursing lodge and infirmary. The maintenance building, caretaker’s residence, and staff house were judged to be “appropriate camp style.” Key to the recreational area was a nice size swimming pool, with attached bath house, a softball field, and volleyball, basketball, and a tennis court. The land and its structures were perfect for the time and needs of the Archdiocese; while providing plenty of additional land for expansion.
On March 31, 1978, the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America signed the final sales agreements to take ownership of what is now The Antiochian Village. The Metropolitan Philip immediately established two primary councils. The first was the Administrative Council for daily operations, co-chaired by father George M. Corry and mr. George S. Koury. The second council was the Programming Council, chaired and organized by father John Namie, pastor of St. George Orthodox Church, Houston, TX. Father John was assisted by the then Youth Director of the Archdiocese, Mr. Bill Essey.
During the 33rd Archdiocese Convention in Houston, TX, Metropolitan Philip announced the purchase of the Antiochian Village as "a new spiritual dimension to our lives and will inaugurate a new era of religious maturity in our Archdiocese". The first Administrative Council was filled with the additional talent and energy of Theodore Mackoul, the V. Rev. John Badeen, Thomas Hier, John Roman, Elsie Kaleel, Albert Joseph, Fred Simon, William Salem, Richard Tony, Michael Anthony, Michael Shamey, and Dennis Slyman. The original Programming Council was similarly enhanced with the addition of: Dr. John Boojamra, Edward Joseph, Brenda Joseph, John Litsios, the Very Rev. James Meena, Pearl Nahass, father Anthony Scott, father Joseph Shahda, Vladimir Swydan, and Donna Yazge.
May 28, 1979, the Order of St. Ignatius granted $10,000.00 to the Administrative Council to produce a professional land use study, plus $60,000.00 for equipment purchase, chapel and building repairs. The original A-frame Presbyterian chapel was granted a $30,000.00 gift from The Order to be converted into St. Ignatius Church as a true Orthodox House of Worship.
That same year, at the 34th Archdiocese Convention in Hollywood, FL, His Eminence began looking ahead at the possibilities beyond camping and introduced the idea of an all year conference facility to be used by and for clergy retreats and conferences, programs for youth ministry, liturgical practice and sacred music, Christian education, theological research, marriage workshops, SOYO, Teen SOYO, Antiochian Women, The Order of St. Ignatius, and the Archdiocese Board of Trustees.
The first camping year was termed “disappointing results”. Word spread as campers and staff traveled back to their home parishes and spoke of their experience at The Village. Under the direction of father John Namie, the camping program made great strides, not just in the number of campers, but in the quality of the camping program. Many other Orthodox dioceses began to use The Village for their retreats, and The Village summer camping program quickly fulfilled the dreams and prayers of those directly involved, especially the hundreds of youth partaking in the awesome Village experience.
The weekend of September 29, 1979, the Antiochian Village was dedicated in front of 1,200 faithful, and the following was declared by His Eminence: “The Antiochian Village is not here to serve only the people of this great Archdiocese, but is offered as a gift to all Orthodox Christians in this country, and because “I do not dream impossible dreams, I merely interpret the dreams and aspirations of my flock. The Antiochian Village was the dream of my people, and I have only striven to translate these dreams into realities. Each achievement presents us with another beginning. There is no summit, only height in the doing the work of Jesus Christ.”
The outreach continued to grow. September, 1979 was the dedication of The St. Thekla Chapel and 1st Annual Pilgrimage. Hundreds came from all over the United States to begin this journey and offer their petitions. The St. Thekla Pilgrimage continues today, as busloads of the faithful travel from all over to participate and refresh their spiritual lives.
In 1982, The Antiochian Village received accreditation by the American Camping Association.
The Antiochian Village Camp continues to grow and offer memories that no other event or time can offer. The camping sessions are usually filled very quickly, and campers call their friends from previous years to make sure that they will see them again during the same session, in the same cabin, and relive The Village Magic that only a “Villager” will understand.
The Conference and Retreat Center was built in 1985 and doubled in size in 1990. Fr. John Namie was the first camp director from 1979 to 1988. Under his directorship, the camping program grew from a two-camper session to an ACA accredited camping program that served hundreds of Orthodox Youth each summer.
After a succession of directors, Fr. Joseph Purpura was the director from 1993-1996, during which time the Ligonier meeting was held.
Fr. Michael Nasser was made director in 1997. He grew the camp from a three-session summer program into the current format of four fortnight-long summer sessions, as well as two winter camp sessions, two family camp sessions, an iconography camp, a chanting camp, Village Adventures, and the Village Roadtrip. Through his work the camp now reaches out to over 1000 Orthodox youth throughout North America. One of his final moves was to start the Village 2010 campaign.
The current director is Fr. Anthony Yazge. He took up this position in 2007, having previously participated in the camping program as session priest.
Conference and retreat center
The conference center has one hundred guest rooms, meeting rooms, a banquet hall, dining facilities, and a theological research library. The Saints Peter and Paul chapel is also located within the center. In 2004, the Antiochian Village Heritage Museum was opened, featuring historical artifacts of Orthodox significance, such as icons and vestments.
"The Village" hosts Orthodox as well as external events and retreats. The Orthodox Christian Fellowship East Coast College Conference takes place at the conference center each December. There is an annual Sts. Thekla and Raphael Pilgrimage every fall. St. Thekla is the patron saint of an outdoor chapel on the camp grounds, and St. Raphael is buried just next to the outdoor chapel. The Antiochian Archdiocese has many of its national delegate's meetings and its biennial Clergy Symposium at the conference center, due to the central location and facilities that are conducive to host such meetings.
The Antiochian Village Camp program holds both a summer and winter camp each year. The summer camp consists of four 2-week sessions from June to August each year. Approximately one thousand campers between the ages of 9 and 17, as well as sixty staff, attend the camp every summer. Some main parts of the summer camp program are daily services in the St. Ignatius chapel, Christian education classes, a challenge course, an overnight camping program, and afternoon sports and activities. There are two 4-day winter camp sessions for older campers (12 to 17 years old) over long weekend breaks from school in the winter. Winter camp includes a day trip to go snow tubing and various outdoor winter activities. The camp also has a family camp for families to attend together, and in 2005 started the Villedge Adventures program for 16 to 18 year old campers. In the summer of 2006, there will be "Sacred Arts Camps" for Byzantine Chanting and Iconography.
In addition to St. Thekla and St. Raphael, the camp's patron saints are the child saint Artemius, St. Herman of Alaska and St. Ignatius of Antioch. The reliquary at the St. Ignatius Chapel includes the relics of St. Herman and St. Moses the Ethiopian.
The camp is currently conducting a capital campaign called "Village 2010" to raise money for many necessary upgrades to facilities. The St. Ignatius Chapel will be expanded, five new cabins will be built, a new dining hall will be created, as well as numerous other projects.
- 1979-1988: Fr. John Namie
- 1989: Fr. Matthew George
- 1990-1991: Fr. Paul Finley
- 1992: Fr. George Alberts
- 1993-1996: Fr. Joseph Purpura
- 1997-2006: Fr. Michael Nasser
- 2007-present Fr. Anthony Yazge